The Hull Thread
Chronology of Events From January 1998 - June 1998
January 7, 1998 CNN Web posted at: 8:03 p.m. EST (0103 GMT)
Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols escaped a death sentence Wednesday, when a badly divided panel of jurors was unable to agree on a unanimous decision in the penalty phase of his trial. "The government was not able to prove to us satisfactorily that Terry Nichols was greatly involved in this process, only that he was somewhat involved," jury forewoman Niki Deutchman told a news conference after jurors were dismissed. ...... "There were a lot of things about the evidence that seemed to be sloppy," she said. In particular, she questioned the FBI's decision to take notes, rather than tape record, key interviews in the case, including a nine-hour interview with Nichols. Those notes were then submitted to the jury. ... "It seems arrogant to me, on the part of the FBI, to say, 'You know, we have good recall, and you can take what we have said,'" Deutchman said, adding that the trial experience led her to "understand how someone would be unhappy with the government." ...... While saying nothing justified the bombing and massive loss of life, Deutchman said the "government's attitude -- and the FBI is definitely included in that -- is part of where all of this comes from in the first place. There are a fair number of people out there who are pretty unhappy with the government and feel unsafe and very suspicious," Deutchman said. "I think maybe it's time for the government to be more respectful and to be more aware of each of us as people with inalienable rights ... and not with the attitude of 'We know, and you don't. We have the power, and you don't.'"
January 8, 1997 The Associated Press
Reported that Ramzi Yousef was sentenced to life in prison without parole. ... “Yes, I am a terrorist and am proud of it,” he said, adding that the United States invented terrorism. “I support terrorism,” he said..... The last suspect in the attack, Abdul Rahman Yasin, who was born in Bloomington, Ind., and moved to Iraq in the 1960s, remains at large.
January 9, 1998 Newsday
A group of retired military pilots and a conservative media "watchdog" group said yesterday that information from the flight data recorder of the ill-fated TWA 800 indicates a missile caused the fatal explosion, despite an FBI conclusion to the contrary. Retired Navy Cmdr. William Donaldson and representatives of Accuracy in Media, based in Washington, D.C., accused the National Transportation Safety Board of deliberately ignoring the last line of data from the aircraft's flight recorder, which he said indicated a missile hit or nearly hit the aircraft, causing its center fuel tank to explode. "It looks to me like there was a high explosive warhead that blew up on the left side [of the plane]," Donaldson said. NTSB spokeswoman Shelly Hazle dismissed the groups' missile theory. She said the groups incorrectly based their theory on an assertion that discarded information from the plane's flight data actually shows the explosion was caused by a missile. Hazle said the information found at the end of the data tape was crossed out and not considered by investigators because it was data from another flight. Hazle said flight data recorders record essential flight data "continuously." Along with the data from TWA 800, the tape included flight information from a previous flight, she said. "We have no evidence of a missile striking TWA 800 or a missile exploding near TWA 800 and fragments striking the aircraft," she said. "We don't have radar data to support it. We don't have physical evidence on the airplane to support it." Several eyewitnesses to the crash also spoke at yesterday's news conference, and reported, as they have previously, that a "streak of light" consistent with a missile trajectory appeared in the sky just prior to the crash. All were interviewed by the FBI and other investigators who also concluded that no act of sabotage was involved in the July 17, 1996, explosion, which killed all 230 on board. The FBI and CIA said what witnesses saw was actually part of the stricken plane falling away. Federal investigators are now focused on a mechanical reason for the explosion of the aircraft's center fuel tank and whether it may have been caused by faulty or frayed wiring.
January 9, 1998 USA
Retired admiral Thomas Moorer, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Thursday for new congressional hearings into TWA Flight 800. ..... "This time, I wouldn't let the FBI do it," Moorer said. "I'd have the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) do it." Moorer and other retired Navy brass, at a news conference, expressed suspicion over the FBI's 18-month investigation of the disaster. "All the evidence would point to a missile," Moorer said. Moorer, an expert on missiles, attended the news conference convened by a media watchdog group that scoffs at the NTSB and FBI findings. The FBI's Joseph Valliquette said the agency is "comfortable" with its conclusions that "there's no evidence a criminal act was responsible." The Navy officers - who appeared with a veteran TWA pilot, two witnesses and members of Accuracy in Media, which coordinated the briefing - said a study of the evidence from recovered Flight 800 data recorders rebuts the government's oficial story about fuel vapors exploding in a central tank of the jetliner after a spark from unknown causes. The retired officers speculated a missile could have come from either a submarine or a buoy device developed by the Navy years ago. "One vital question we haven't attacked is the origin of that streak of light," Moorer said. ..... Shelly Hazle, a spokeswoman for the NTSB, scoffed at allegations made at the news conference. "Their interpretation of the data from the flight data recorder only displays ther lack of knowledge of how FDRs work and how data is interpreted."
(Editorial note from M. Hull: Reader might wish to review article at http://www.webexpert.net/thread/library/iransub.html regarding possibility of a submarine involvement.)
January 9, 1998 The Press-Enterprise
Refusing to believe the government's explanation for the crash of TWA Flight 800, a group of retired aviators said Thursday they had found evidence that a missile exploded just 60 feet from the front of the Boeing 747. The last line of data from Flight 800's flight data recorder, information released during National Transportation Safety Board hearings in Baltimore last month, includes readings that prove an explosion took place outside the plane, said William S. Donaldson, a retired Navy commander who investigated crashes. "It looks to me like there was a huge explosive warhead about 60 feet from the plane and blew the nose up and to the left," Donaldson said during a news conference sponsored by the Associated Retired Aviation Professionals and the conservative group Accuracy in Media. Responding to the Donaldson theory, government officials said there was no evidence of a missile, saying that information from the flight recorders was being misinterpreted. Also at the news conference were two men who witnessed the crash -- a military helicopter pilot who was flying over Long Island at the time and a businessman who saw the disaster while eating dinner at a yacht club -- said a CIA video recreation of the crash doesn't reflect what they saw. .... An NTSB spokeswoman repeated Thursday that the agency has discounted a missile theory. Federal investigators have concluded vapors in the plane's central fuel tank were ignited by an unknown mechanical malfunction. "We have absolutely no evidence that a missile struck the aircraft or that a fragment of a missile entered the aircraft," said spokeswoman Shelly Hazle. Donaldson vehemently disagreed, drawing his conclusions that a missile shot down the plane as a terrorist act from a printout of flight data produced by the NTSB. The flight data recorder tracks information such as altitude, speed, engine power, the direction in which flight controls are pointing and how directly the wind hits the plane. Before printing copies of the flight data for distribution in Baltimore, an NTSB official drew a line through the last set of numbers, writing by hand "END OF FLT 800 DATA." An NTSB official said Thursday that the figures represent incorrect readings from earlier flights and are junk data. Flight data recorders use the same reel-to-reel tape several times, erasing it and writing over repeatedly. If the data are to believed, however, they indicate Flight 800's gauges recorded physically impossible conditions, such as dropping 3,645 feet and slowing to 100 knots from 298 knots in just one second. More likely, Donaldson said, the readings record the shock wave of an exploding missile as it ripped past sensors. Such a wave would increase the air pressure enough to skew the altitude and speed measurements, he said. It would also have rocked a device, not unlike a weather vane, which measures from which wind hits the aircraft. That reading went from 3 degrees to 106 degrees. The last reading, less than a second later, was again 3 degrees. A shock wave would help explain how the plane's central fuel tank exploded, Donaldson said. Jet fuel, basically kerosene, does not burn easily, not even at the temperatures that the federal government says the central fuel tank reached, he said. Donaldson showed a video in which he repeatedly extinguishes a match in a can of jet fuel. The fuel does burn, however, when it is suspended in a mist, as he demonstrates by putting the fuel in a spray bottle and spritzing it at a candle. Donaldson theorized the shock wave from the outside explosion knocked what little fuel remained in the plane's central fuel tank into the air. That fuel was ignited by a fragment from the missile exploding, he said. Unlike other missile theories surrounding Flight 800, Donaldson said he does not believe a missile struck the plane, but that one exploded near it. He said the government is trying to cover up evidence of the missile because it failed in its job of protecting airliners from terrorist attacks. Donaldson, a one-time fighter pilot, first said last year that he didn't think it was possible for jet fuel vapors in the central fuel tank to explode without first being sent into the air by a shock of some sort. And he doubts that the data that led to his conclusions were left over from an earlier flight and were therefore incorrect. "A lot of the data recovered," he said, such as the angle of attack measurement. "It all fits with what I described." Others speaking at the news conference included Fred Meyer, a retired Air National Guard major who was flying a helicopter practice mission around Long Island. He said FBI investigators talked to him briefly, but were not too interested in his account of a streak of light arcing through the sky and ending in what looked to him as a military explosion. "I've seen ordnance explosions," said Meyer, a Vietnam veteran. "This was military ordnance." Another witness, Richard Goss, a carpenter and businessman, said he was having dinner when he saw an ascending streak of light over the Atlantic Ocean, ending in an explosion. He said he twice talked with FBI investigators, but they didn't follow up with him. They were joined at the news conference by Mark Hill, a retired Navy rear admiral, and Howard Mann, a former TWA 747 pilot, who first picked up on the cross-out line in the flight recorder data while looking over documents he picked up during the Baltimore hearings.
January 14, 1998 FAA Releases TWA Flight 800 Tapes
8:37:11 Boston: Well, I want to confirm that you saw the splash in the water.
8:37:20 Eastwind 507: Yes, sir. It just blew up in the air, and then we saw two fireballs go down to the water. ... There seemed to be a light.... I thought it was a landing light, ... and it was coming right at us at .. about ... I don't know .. about 15,000 feet or something like that, and I pushed my landing lights, ah, you know, so I saw him, and then it blew.
8:37:40 Boston: Roger that, sir, that was a 747 out there you had a visual on that. Anything else in the area when it happened?
8:37:47 Eastwind 507: I didn't see anything. He seemed to be (alone?). I thought he had a landing light on ... maybe it was a fire ... I don't know.
January 20, 1998 CNN Web posted at: 11:52
p.m. EST (0452 GMT)
Uniondale, New York A couple accused of stealing wreckage from the investigation site of TWA Flight 800 pleaded not guilty in federal court Tuesday. Journalist James Sanders and his wife, Elizabeth, a flight attendant with TWA, are charged with felony theft for allegedly obtaining a swatch of seat fabric from the closely guarded hanger where the Boeing 747 was being reconstructed last spring. .... Even with the charges pending against him, Sanders remains committed to his theory that the government is covering up the accidental firing of a Navy missile at TWA Flight 800. His efforts to prove his point made headlines last March. Sanders, who was a police officer before he became a writer, tested seat fabric from the wreckage and claimed it showed residue of what could have been missile fuel. James Kallstrom, the former assistant director of the FBI who was involved in the crash investigation, has vehemently denied Sanders' claim. "It's not rocket fuel. It never was rocket fuel, and it never will be rocket fuel," he said. In December, Sanders, his wife, and Terrell Stacy, a TWA pilot assigned to assist in the crash investigation, all were charged with stealing the material from the hangar where the plane was being reconstructed. Stacy accepted a plea bargain and is expected to testify against Sanders and his wife. Sanders is planning a defense strategy based on the First Amendment. "I can't believe that any responsible journalist would not take the step and test the Constitution and take the material and have it analyzed," said Jeffrey Schlanger, Sanders' attorney. Sanders and his attorney insist the case is no different from others in which journalists base reports on restricted material. But one expert on free press issues says the First Amendment protects the right to publish but does not grant access to private or government property. Mary Cheh of Georgetown University Law School said the government's case against James and Elizabeth Sanders alleges that they stole government property. "That makes it an entirely different sort of a case," she said.
January 23, 1998 Paris Match
.... la justice américaine se prépare pour un procès en responsabilité directe intenté au constructeur Boeing et à la compagnie aérienne T.w.a. En février, des employés des deux entreprises seront entendus. L'avocat du constructeur aéronautique a déjà averti le juge américain qu'il soutiendra la thèse du missile devant les tribunaux, lors du procès qui pourrait se tenir en janvier 1999.
(.... the American justice system is preparing to consider a suit for responsibility against the plane's builder, Boeing, and the airline company, TWA. In February, employees of both firms will be heard. Boeing's lawyer has already warned that he will argue for the missile theory in the courts, during a trial which could occur in January 1999.)
March 15, 1998 London
New evidence has emerged to support claims that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) covered up the cause of one of Britain's worst air disasters - the 1968 Aer Lingus tragedy that claimed the lives of the 61 people on board. Allegations that a stray missile from the Royal Aircraft Establishment's testing range at Aberporth, Dyfed, may have caused the crash - when the Viscount plane mysteriously plunged into the Irish Sea on March 24, 1968 - have always been dismissed by the MoD. But one of the salvage crew who looked for the wreckage has now come forward on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the disaster. He claims that he and his colleagues were prevented by the Navy from searching the area where the plane crashed. Billy Bates, a 34-year-old lifeboatman at the time, said last night: "There were lots of Royal Navy ships in the area immediately following the crash, including minesweepers, which seemed unusual. They got there very fast. What was odd was the fact that we were turned away from an area they called Area Alpha. That was where the plane actually fell. Every time we offered to help search that part of the water - our job was to try to find the wreckage - we were told to look elsewhere. Only the Navy trawled that section and took away what they found." Hugh Byrne, the Irish minister of state at the Department of the Marine, also claims there has been a cover-up. ..... It doesn't take a very smart man to deduce that something happened. The whole thing stinks." What has particularly aroused the suspicions of Mr Byrne and relatives of the victims is that the Navy log books of two vessels which were in the vicinity at the time of the crash are missing. Log books from Invermoriston and Uplifter, support vessels attached to Aberporth, have been asked for by relatives since the tragedy. But the MoD says that there is no trace of them. It has always maintained that there was no military testing on the weekend of the fatal flight. The accident occurred at 11.58am on a clear Sunday. The Celtic League, a group covering the main Celtic areas of the western British Isles, has also proved from documents provided by the MoD that there were missile tests at least until the early hours of Saturday morning. Two years ago it emerged that there had been technical problems at the base, with missiles failing to "lock on" to their intended targets. But the British and Irish governments have refused to re-open the investigation. An MoD spokesman said: "We have looked exhaustively at theories that the tragedy was caused by a missile, but have found no basis for the suggestion. The Aberporth range was closed on March 24, 1968, a Sunday, and no missile firings took place."
March 31, 1998 New York Times
The Saudi Arabian government said on Monday that it had completed its investigation into the June 1996 terrorist bombing there that left 19 American airmen dead but would not immediately release the results of the inquiry. The announcement caught the Clinton administration by surprise ..... The American officials, who have long been critical of the Saudi government for failing to cooperate in the investigation, said the Saudis had yet to share their detailed findings with the United States, although a Saudi official indicated the information would ultimately be made available. There was concern, officials said, that the Saudis failed to conduct an adequate inquiry because it might produce evidence of a link between the bombers and Iran, embarrassing the Saudi government. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have warmed dramatically in recent months. ...... The relationship between the Justice Department, which is overseeing the investigation for the United States, and the Saudis remains "chilly," the official noted. The 19 American airmen were killed on June 25, 1996, when terrorists drove a large truck filled with explosives up to the perimeter of an apartment complex near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and fired a detonator. The blast left an 80-foot crater. There was widespread suspicion in Saudi Arabia and the United States that the bombing might have been directed by Iran, which has long protested the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia and has been accused of involvement in other terrorist attacks against the United States. ... The Saudi announcement Monday was made by the interior minister, Prince Nayef ibn Abdul Aziz, who said in a news conference in Mecca, the Saudi holy city, that "all the facts concerning the crime are in our hands" and that Saudi investigators had "exerted great efforts to learn all the facts and each detail about this incident." He said the findings "will be released in due course." ..... The United States announced last fall that it would drop criminal charges against a Saudi dissident who was once described as a central figure in the bombing and who is still in custody here, awaiting deportation hearings. The dissident, Hani Abdel Rahim al-Sayegh, who once lived in Iran, fled to Canada after the bombing and was arrested there. Saudi intelligence officials identified al-Sayegh as the driver of a scout car that signaled the driver of the explosives-laden truck to the site of the blast. Al-Sayegh was deported to the United States from Canada as part of a plea agreement in which he initially agreed to provide the Justice Department with information about the bombing in exchange for a promise that he would not be returned to Saudi Arabia, where he almost certainly face execution by beheading. But on arrival in the United States, al-Sayegh reneged on the agreement with the Justice Department, claiming he was not involved in the bombing and had no information to provide to American prosecutors. He has recently insisted that he was not in Saudi Arabia when the bombing occurred.
April 7, 1998 The Associated Press
Investigators trying to determine what caused TWA Flight 800 to explode found problems with the wiring and fuel-monitoring systems on that plane and four other Boeing 747s, prompting the federal safety agency to make sweeping recommendations Tuesday that could affect thousands of airliners. After finding frayed wires, the National Transportation Safety Board asked the Federal Aviation Administration to require wiring and fuel probe inspections on three early series of the jumbo jet, the 747-100, -200 and -300. TWA 800 and the other planes, all older models, had probes with sharp edges that could have frayed some of the planes' wiring. The NTSB also wants the FAA to require separation or rerouting of fuel-monitoring wires away from bundles of other wires that carry electrical charges. The agency fears that those wires, which carry up to 350 volts, could sent a jolt to one of the fuel wires. In addition, the agency is asking the FAA to require the installation of surge protection systems to prevent electrical jolts from reaching fuel tanks. Only the FAA has the power to mandate the changes, but it immediately issued a statement saying it was already working with Boeing on requiring many of the recommendations. Boeing did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Taken together, the recommendations mean that all 750 older Boeing 747s still in service would have to undergo inspections and possibly extensive rewiring. The rest of the recommendations could affect 500 to 600 newer 747s - as well as other types of planes - since the NTSB wants them applied to ''all applicable transport airplane fuel tanks.'' ''The safety board recognizes the difficulty and expense associated with physically separating (fuel-monitoring) wires from other wires and adding shielding to (the) wires on in-service air carrier airplanes,'' NTSB Chairman Jim Hall wrote in his 10-page letter to the FAA. ''However, the separation of the ... (fuel-monitoring wires) from other power sources by shielding and separation can protect fuel tank wires from power sources that can potentially ignite an explosive vapor in a fuel tank.'' The agency stressed that it has not concluded what caused the crash of TWA Flight 800 ... The chief suspect in that disaster is a combination of events involving damaged wires and corrosion on a fuel-measuring rod, which may have introduced a spark or flame into the center fuel tank. The tank was virtually empty and the vapors in it heated up as the plane sat on the runway on a hot day waiting to take off. At NTSB hearings last year, experts from Boeing testified that the company has been testing different ways to protect the center fuel tank from exploding - including using different types of fuels. In a statement, the FAA said it agreed with the intent of the NTSB recommendations. ''The FAA is working actively with the NTSB and Boeing to develop both short- and long-term solutions for addressing fuel-tank ignition sources and reducing or eliminating explosive fuel/air mixtures,'' the statement said. The NTSB said its investigation of TWA Flight 800, while not yet determining the cause of the crash, had turned up other safety concerns that could not be ignored. An examination of the wiring and fuel probes on TWA 800, three retired planes and a plane that is still in service found frayed wires or sharp edges on some early-model Honeywell fuel probes could provide an ignition source. It also said it found two ''inappropriate repairs'' in the fuel-monitoring wires for TWA 800's wing-tip fuel tanks, although investigators do not believe they contributed to the crash. TWA issued a statement saying the repairs had been performed in accordance with Boeing and FAA procedures. In addition, the NTSB recommended that the FAA conduct studies into copper sulfide deposits that are found in airplane fuel tanks ''to determine the levels of deposits that may be hazardous.'' While conceding that Boeing and the FAA were working on service bulletins suggesting some of the recommendations, the NTSB wrote: ''Compliance with SBs is not mandatory.''
April 12 1998 The Times
Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist group, has received $25m (£15m) from a senior member of the Saudi royal family, raising fears that the enormous influx of money could be used to fuel a devastating bombing campaign. Saudi sources said the contribution was the first sent directly to Hamas, which has killed scores of Israelis in a series of suicide bombings since 1996. ..... A substantial portion of the $25m was destined for Izzedine al-Qassem, Hamas's military wing ..... The revelation of the Saudi contribution came as Hamas leaders from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Sudan held an emergency session this weekend in Saudi Arabia with Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the frail founder and spiritual leader of Hamas. He lives in Gaza, but has been in the kingdom since March 3 for medical treatment. ..... The Saudi-Hamas connection seems a strange one at first glance. Pro-western Saudi Arabia supports the Oslo peace process between Israel and the Palestinians; Hamas calls for war against Israel until it has been completely destroyed and considers the West, particularly the United States, an enemy because of its support for the Jewish state. Like most Arabs, however, the Saudi sheikhs have grown increasingly frustrated with Israeli intransigence that has halted the peace process and increasingly radicalised the Middle East. The Saudis also view Hamas as a future political force in the West Bank and Gaza; such a substantial contribution is clearly seen as a way of ensuring their influence. The public face of Saudi Arabia's approval of Hamas came last month when Crown Prince Abdullah visited Yassin, who is paralysed, partly blind and nearly deaf, at the King Khaled National Guard hospital in Jeddah. Yassin resumed control of Hamas last October after being freed from an Israeli prison. ... An attack seems inevitable, however. Palestinian sources said that Yassin warned during the Saudi meeting that a bombing campaign would play into Israel's hands by sparking a civil war with the PA. But he was opposed by leaders living abroad and young militants in the West Bank and Gaza.
April 12, 1998 The New York Times
For half a century, the Persian Gulf has held a crucial place in U.S. policy-making. Repeatedly, its oil and its leaders have drawn the United States into its sometimes deadly games, even as its rivalries and intrigues have confounded U.S. strategy. So the United States can end up preoccupied with the smallest events, on the assumption that they may be the prelude to something big. This is one of those times. Saudi Arabia, America's closest ally in the Persian Gulf, and Iran, one of Washington's most bitter foes, have been busy trying to charm each other. .... In the two decades since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini fomented Iran's revolution, the Saudis and Iranians have never been particularly close. .... Since then, Saudi Arabia and Iran have moved slowly -- very slowly -- to shape a more normal relationship. That effort accelerated late last year, when Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah met Iranian President Mohammed Khatami in Tehran at the summit of Islamic countries. After two meetings, the Iranian cleric and the Saudi prince gave signals that they had, in a manner of speaking, bonded. .... These days, there are no more rumblings from the kingdom that Iran might have been involved in the terrorist bombing of an apartment building in Saudi Arabia in 1996 that left 19 U.S. servicemen dead. .... So the question in Washington is: What's up? ..... The stability of the Saudi kingdom is of so much concern to the United States that since the bombing of the military housing, a special task force of analysts has been studying the kingdom under the same rigorous process used to assess the most serious potential threats to U.S. national security. The Saudis who hold power now are not about to walk away from the United States, of course. It's just that the relationship is a lot more difficult than when King Fahd was in good health, in charge and eager to please the United States. Crown Prince Abdullah, who is running the country on a day-to-day basis, simply isn't as likely as his brother the king to say yes every time the United States asks for something. When Defense Secretary William Cohen visited in February in a vain effort to win support for possible military action against Iraq, Crown Prince Abdullah simply made himself unavailable. Prince Sultan, the defense minister, stood in. A week later, the crown prince did turn up for a meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Ever-protective of his boss, State Department spokesman James Rubin said she found the encounter "fascinating"; other officials described it as a stern lecture by Abdullah on the failings of U.S. policy in the Middle East, followed by an equally stern defense by Ms. Albright. The Iranians, meanwhile, are not about to embrace the United States. They have been demanding for two decades that the U.S. military leave the gulf, and that is not likely to change. But already the Saudis have urged the Clinton administration to help along Iran's new president and have offered to mediate. One thought remains profoundly comforting to the policy planners in Washington. Whatever else is going on between Saudi Arabia and Iran, trust is not part of the equation. Crown Prince Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain, one of Saudi Arabia's close neighbors, shared a joke recently with a senior U.S. official visiting the sheikdom. In Iran, he said, "You have three people in charge: You have Khamenei, and he is in charge of religion and terrorism," referring to Iran's ruling spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "You have Rafsanjani, and he is in charge of business and terrorism. And you have Khatami, and he is in charge of internal politics, moderation and terrorism."
Issue dated April 20, 1998 Newsweek
Conspiracy theorists who still believe that TWA Flight 800 was shot down by a missile will get a boost when statements of more than 400 eyewitnesses collected by the FBI after the crash are released. Scores of people told agents they saw something streaking toward the Boeing 747 just before it exploded. The FBI will soon turn over the accounts, with names blacked out, to the National Transportation Safety Board, which will likely make them public. A CIA-produced video re-enactment has demonstrated how an initial explosion in the plane's center fuel tank caused the nose to fall away and the aft section to continue upward--producing the streak mistaken for a missile. NTSB officials are convinced the explosion was caused by a mechanical glitch. But lawyers for TWA and Boeing, anticipating the accounts' release, have told the court handling lawsuits against them that they cannot rule out the possibility of a missile.
May 1, 1998 Dan's Papers Long Island, NY
A lawyer from up-Island..... said that late in the summer of 1996 he had been out boating with some friends and at the end of the day had stopped off to see a client of his at the Shinnecock Coast Guard Station. He went inside while his friends stayed in their car in the parking lot. When he came out he noticed that debris that had been recovered from TWA Flight 800 was being hoisted onto flat bed trucks by a crane. He and his friends stood in the parking lot watching. "I saw a section of the fuselage being lifted into the air and as it was brought over to the truck it dangled and turned. And you could see on one side this opening with smooth sides, an opening about the size of a basketball and as the thing turned you could see the other side and the opening on the other side had the metal pushed out, like a giant bullet had gone through the metal. "I turned to my friends and said. 'Boys, you just saw history.'"
May 3, 1998 The New York Times
The National Transportation Safety Board is taking twice as long to investigate plane crashes as it did five years ago, primarily because of the efforts it is still devoting to the daunting mysteries of the crashes of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 and a USAir flight near Pittsburgh in 1994. ..... A large share of the board's investigative force has been consumed with the crash of TWA 800 and that of USAir near Pittsburgh, Flight 427, because both involved popular plane models whose possible mechanical failures raised broad questions about airline safety .... In Flight 800, a Boeing 747 exploded .. after the center fuel tank exploded, but the source of ignition is not clear. In the USAir flight, a Boeing 737 went out of control near Pittsburgh on Sept. 8, 1994, possibly because of a rudder malfunction. (See Musing #4) In each case, a definitive cause has never been found. Neither the wreckage nor the "black boxes" -- the flight data and cockpit voice recorders -- provided the answers that would allow the safety board to make a determination. .... At the National Business Aviation Association, a trade group, Jack Olcott, the president, said, "I think what you're seeing is what's happening throughout Washington, a litigious atmosphere, where people are very reluctant to make any moves before all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed." He advocated trying to strike a delicate balance. "The sooner you can resolve some of these issues and offer a recommended correction, the better off everyone is," he suggested. On the other hand, he said, "you don't want to shoot from the hip and come up with something instantaneous and have it be wrong."
May 7, 1998 The Associated Press
The discovery of leaking fuel in a pipe carrying electrical wires on an older Boeing 737 prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to order quick inspections of similar aircraft Thursday. Less-urgent inspections were ordered for two other Boeing planes. The affected pipe ran through a wing fuel tank, and FAA and Boeing officials determined that fuel got into the pipe through two pin-sized holes. They suspect those holes were caused by electrical arcing within the pipe, creating an atmosphere of air, fuel and electricity that could spark a fuel tank explosion like that suspected of downing TWA Flight 800..... The action stems from an investigation into the TWA accident in July 1996, which killed all 230 aboard, over Long Island, N.Y. While investigators still have not determined what caused the crash, they suspect electricity from wiring around the Boeing 747's center fuel tank may have sparked an explosion.
May 22, 1998 The New York Times
A Saudi official has been quoted as saying that citizens of Saudi Arabia were behind the bombing that killed 19 United States airmen near ... Dhahran in June 1996 - the first time that a Saudi official has so clearly ruled out any foreign participation in the attack. ...The suggestion that Saudi citizens alone are responsible for the attack is a significant admission for the Government because it raises the possibility that it was carried out by Sunni Muslim fundamentalists. .... Last year, the Saudis requested the extradition from the United States of a Saudi national, Hani Abdel Rahim al-Sayegh who was extradited to the United States in June 1997 from Canada .... Canadian and American authorities say that Mr. Sayegh helped plan the attack and admitted belonging to a Saudi group that used the name Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia has enjoyed a recent reconciliation with the Government of President Mohammad Khatami, the moderate cleric who came to power a year ago. In November 1996 the Iranian Ambassador in Riyadh congratulated the Saudi authorities on the objectivity of their inquiries into the bombing.
May 26, 1998 The New York Times
When the ritualistic chants of "Death to America!" began to rise again at a public gathering last weekend, the Iranian president was ready with an unusual retort. "In this gathering I prefer that we talk about life, not death," said President Mohammed Khatami, turning the shouts into cheers as he tried again to ensure that the world sees a new Iran with a less hostile face. Khatami's quest to overcome what he called "a wall of mistrust" between Iran and the United States has yielded little fruit, at least in terms of greater warmth from Washington. Within months of starting the effort, the State Department reissued an annual assessment of Iran as the world's "most active state sponsor of terrorism." That caused senior Iranian officials to complain that U.S. policy-makers who had welcomed Khatami's gesture were "stabbing us with a smile." ..... Khatami first called for greater understanding between the Iranian and American people in an interview in January with Cable News Network. But he has recently muffled that appeal, apparently in deference to domestic criticism. .... In interviews over two weeks a wide range of Iranian scholars, commentators and senior officials have faulted the United States because the atmosphere between the two countries is not much warmer. In addition to putting Iran at the head of the terrorism list again, those Iranians have cited renewed U.S. allegations that their country is seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction as a sign that the relationship is not warming. The Iranians also cited a congressional decision this year to allocate millions of dollars for a new Radio Free Iran, with the purpose of undermining the structure established by the Islamic Revolution of 1979. ........ Iran has made marked progress in improving ties with other countries. European ambassadors who had left in protest over Iranian involvement in terrorism have returned. And ties between Iran and most of its Arab neighbors, long snarled in mutual suspicions, have become healthier than at any time since the revolution. One problem in relations with the United States is that in Iran's political system, the president does not have the last word. That belongs to the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who continues to denounce the United States and its "global arrogance." That is a major reason, U.S. officials have suggested, that the United States has remained mostly guarded in its statements about Iran. The State Department noted in its report last month that Khatami and his deputies had publicly condemned some forms of terrorism, but that the words had not been matched by deeds.
June 5, 1998 WASHINGTON, DC (EmergencyNet News)
Pentagon officials say that the U.S. Navy is asking its sailors to exercise caution in the Persian Gulf and has canceled shore leave for ships there because of recent threats against U.S. military forces. The steps were taken earlier this week by Vice Admiral Thomas Fargo, the 5th Fleet commander based in Bahrain. The U.S. Navy warning also covers forces in Pakistan and Yemen. One Pentagon official said, "He has upgraded the security. This certainly is a prudent measure." The move was taken as the two-year anniversary of the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia nears. Nineteen airmen were killed in the attack on a U.S. military housing complex in Dhahran in June 1996. The actual anniversary date varies according to the Islamic and Western calendars. In addition, exiled Saudi terrorist financier Osama bin Laden recently threatened a holy war against U.S. troops in his homeland. Bin Laden reportedly has financed several terrorist acts around the world, allegedly including the Dhahran strike. In light of bin Laden's comments, the U.S. State Department earlier this week advised U.S. embassies in the Middle East and Indian subcontinent to tighten their security.
June 10, 1998 The Associated Press
Taking the lead on U.S. arms control policy, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proposed worldwide curbs on shoulder-fired missiles as a threat to civil aviation. ..... Shoulder-fired missiles have proliferated around the world in the last two decades. The United States provided Stingers to guerrillas in Afghanistan after Russia invaded the Asian country in 1979. "In the wrong hands, such exports can endanger our people and empower our adversaries,'' Albright said, calling for international negotiations to impose tight controls on exports. Partly in response to initial speculation that a missile may have caused the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 that killed 230 people, Vice President Al Gore set up a commission to look into airline safety. One conclusion was that shoulder-fired missiles, a weapon the United States provided to guerrillas in Afghanistan after the Russian invasion in 1979, was particularly dangerous and extremely lethal. "These are hard to defeat,'' State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said. More than 115 countries are now equipped with shoulder-fired missiles, and it is a favorite weapon of terrorist groups. Rubin said the United States had imposed strong restrictions on export of the weapons, and "we want to impose similar, stringent restrictions around the world.''
June 10, 1998 ABC Nightline
He may have backed the bombers that attacked the World Trade Center. Weapons which he supplied shot down U.S. helicopters in Somalia. He applauded the bombings of U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia. American forces have now gone to a higher level of alert because he has threatened new attacks on U.S. targets. .. He's rich, well-educated, and by his own description one of America's most dangerous enemies. He has a personal fortune estimated at $250 million. His family, which has publicly renounced any connection with him, is nevertheless believed to be a continuing resource. Their worth is said to be in the neighborhood of $5 billion. He lives in a cave atop a range of mountains in Afghanistan. From there he controls a web of financial, logistical and strategic assistance to Sunni islamic groups engaged, in what they consider, a jihad or holy war. The principal targets of that jihad are the Israelis and the United States. His name is Osama bin Laden ... Washington does in fact take him and the threat he poses seriously. Some intelligence sources claim that Osama bin Laden was connected to the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and the bombing of Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia two years ago on June 25. Bin Laden described that particular terrorist act as "the beginning of war between muslims and the United States". ..... Khobar Towers was a turning point for the United States. Nineteen american servicemen came home in coffins. Within the military there were two frightening realizations - that it could have been much worse - and almost certainly would happen again. In Saudi Arabia, once considered safe for americans, the landscape changed overnight .... A sometimes difficult relationship with the Saudis becomes even tougher on certain types of intelligence - they have yet to come clean with the U.S. on who they believe conducted the Khobar Towers bombing and who trained them. It came as a bit of a shock to the Saudis to find out how many Saudi young men had been trained overseas by the so-called Afghani in extremist or potential terrorist roles. Further tensions were created by the way the FBI handled itself in Saudi Arabia. In the view of the Saudis the FBI tried to "muscle" them. The Saudis simply stopped talking. The image of the FBI is "a forensic bull in an arab china shop - and a bull that can't speak the language and doesn't understand the culture". ..... The businessman turned terrorist, Osama bin Laden, issued a new threat against Americans - a threat taken so seriously that the Departments of State and Defense have ordered security tightened at embassies and U.S. bases throughout the Middle East and Persian Gulf. ... Osama bin Laden speaking: "We believe that the biggest thieves in the world are Americans and the biggest terrorists on earth are the Americans. The only way for us in face of this assualt is by using similar means. We do not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians - they are all targets in this Fatwa. .. You will leave when the bodies of American soldiers and civilians are sent in the wooden boxes and coffins - that is when you will leave". .... Clearly he is a role model for a lot of islamic militants in the world today. ... Osama bin Laden speaking: "We must use punishment to keep your evil away from us - muslim women and children. Americans impose themselves on everyone who believes in his religion and his rights. They accuse our children in Palestine of being terrorists - those children who have no weapons and have not yet even reached maturity." .... American intelligence agencies believe it was bin Laden who dispatched his personal brigades with rocket launchers to shoot down U.S. helicopters (in Somalia) - eighteen U.S. soldiers were killed.... Osama bin Laden speaking: "Our people realized more than before that the American soldier is a paper tiger that run in defeat after a few blows. America forgot all about the hoopla and media propaganda and left dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat". The FBI believes that bank accounts controlled by bin Laden may have funnelled money to Ramsey Yousef to blow up the World Trade Center. When Yousef was captured in February 1995 he was staying at a guest house paid for by bin Laden. Osama bin Laden speaking: "Ramsey Yousef after the World Trade Center bombing became a well-known muslim personality and all moslems know him. Unfortunately I did not know him before the incident. America will see many young men that will follow Ramsey Yousef". ... The U.S. Justice Department believes bin Laden is operating what is in essence an underground foundation where terrorists can apply for a grant..... Bin Laden has issued these Fatwas and made these threats before but this time there is something different - he put a time cap on it saying that whatever action will be taken against Americans in the Gulf, whatever violence awaits, will occur within the next few weeks. ..... (bin Laden) has sought to open and fund training camps in the Phillipines (See Musing #8) and other places to do a two stage program - religious indoctrination into moslem fundamentalism and then military training to serve in his various armies.
June 14, 1998 NY Times
The house on Thomas Street in this suburb 15 miles southwest of Chicago ... is the home of a man who has operated secretly as a high-ranking member of the Islamic terrorist organization Hamas .... The owner, Mohammed Salah, served nearly five years in an Israeli prison after pleading guilty to membership in Hamas. Released in November 1997, Salah, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem, returned to his home in this quiet subdivision near one of the area's largest mosques. Salah, 45, lived modestly and unobtrusively with his wife, Azita, and three children -- until last week. Tuesday, the government stepped in. Prosecutors obtained a court order seizing the Thomas Street property, as well as bank accounts in seven Illinois financial institutions worth nearly $1.5 million. Prosecutors did not charge Salah with a crime, but law enforcement officials said their investigation could lead to his indictment on terrorism-related charges because they had evidence that the money was to be used illegally to underwrite the Hamas war of terror. ....... The case seemed to signal a hardening in the government's attitude toward Hamas activities in the United States. .... In a highly detailed affidavit, federal prosecutors disclosed what they presented as a reconstruction of Salah's bank transactions in the early 1990s. Prosecutors said that wire transfers of tens of thousands of dollars from other accounts in the United States and Switzerland linked Salah to specific terrorist attacks, including one in which an Israeli soldier was killed. But Salah, in an interview with his lawyers present, said the government had seriously misjudged him, mistaking his charitable efforts on behalf of the Palestinians as terrorism. "I am not a member of Hamas, I am not a supporter of them," Salah said. "I am a person who likes to help poor people." Salah said his admission of guilt in an Israeli military court was a sham -- the only way he could avoid a potential life sentence. He said he signed an incriminating statement because he feared for his life after days of beatings and physical threats by the Israelis. "Is this man a bag man for a terrorist network?" said his lawyer, Matthew Piers. "The answer is no." The voluminous affidavit prepared by the FBI said the agency had obtained evidence, mainly bank records, that showed for the first time how Salah and his alleged confederates deposited hundreds of thousands of dollars in several Northern Illinois banks and engaged in one real-estate deal that was intended to supply money to support the Hamas campaign of terrorism against Israel. "The illegal transfers have supported specific terrorist activities," the affidavit said, "involving the extortion, kidnapping and murder of the citizens and government of the State of Israel as part of an ongoing movement and campaign publicly pledged to the goal of forcing, through coercive and violent means, the state and citizens of Israel to cede physical and political control and dominion over the lands comprising Israel and the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip." The FBI document said Salah used a cover story to carry out his activities, operating as a computer analyst for the Quranic Literacy Institute, a Chicago-area group that translates sacred Islamic texts. In reality, the government said, Salah worked secretly as an important Hamas courier and conduit who moved money around the world to finance weapons purchases and launch attacks against Israel. The affidavit combines new financial data with Israeli intelligence information and the admissions that the Israeli military authorities said Salah made to them after his arrest. At the time of his arrest, his statements suggested, Hamas had logistical and financial support in the United States. The Israelis said Salah had admitted that he helped train and recruit candidates for Hamas military cells in the West Bank and Gaza and conducted background checks and interviews for prospective members. His training, the affidavit said, included mixing poisons, developing chemical weapons and preparing remote-control explosive devices. After receiving this training as a Hamas member in the late 1980s, Salah began operating as a financial agent for Hamas in 1991, opening accounts at First National Bank of Chicago, LaSalle Bank and Standard Bank & Trust in suburban Evergreen Park, officials said. ...... In one case, the FBI said he gave a Hamas member $48,000 to buy weapons, including an M-16 rifle used in a suicide attack in October 1992 that resulted in the murder of an Israeli soldier in Hebron. In December 1992, Salah traveled to the West Bank for what the government said was a Hamas operation. The trip, according to the affidavit, was ordered by Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, described as a Hamas leader. Marzook instructed Salah to distribute $790,000 to Hamas units for terrorist actions, the government said. In the following days a total of $985,000 was deposited into Salah's LaSalle account.
June 15, 1998 The Associated
CBS News has hired the chief investigtor into the TWA Flight 800 explosion to be a law enforcement consultant, the network said Monday. James Kallstrom, the former FBI assistant director in charge of the New York City office, retired from the FBI after 28 years last December. He headed the probe into the Flight 800 disaster, which killed 230 people in July 1996. "He will add significant insight to CBS News' coverage of stories and issues involving law enforcement and will be a major asset in our dedication to enterprise reporting in that area," said Al Ortiz, CBS vice president and Washington bureau chief. Kallstrom is currently senior executive vice president of MBNA America Bank.
June 21, 1998 The New York Times
The government's investigation of a 1996 terrorist bombing that killed 19 U.S. airmen in Saudi Arabia has collapsed over disagreements with the Saudis, and Clinton administration officials now say they may never be able to determine who carried out the attack. In frustration, FBI Director Louis Freeh has quietly pulled out the dozens of investigators initially rushed to the scene of the bombing at the Khobar Towers apartment complex in eastern Saudi Arabia, leaving behind only a single agent as a legal attache and liaison to the Saudis. ..... the Clinton administration's insistence that it remains committed to the case is at odds with other signs that the investigation has dissolved into a muddle of inconclusive evidence and ill-feeling between the United States and Saudi Arabia .... Evidence suggesting that Iran sponsored the attack has further complicated the investigation, since the United States and Saudi Arabia have recently sought to improve relations with a new, relatively moderate government in Tehran. .... As the case languishes, families of the American victims are, for the first time, complaining openly about the slow pace of the investigation. They also assert that the case is not being pursued aggressively because of U.S. fears of offending Saudi Arabia .... "Ignoring us doesn't make us go away," said Fran Heiser of Palm Coast, Fla., mother of an Air Force master sergeant who was killed in the explosion. "Everybody is forgetting about this case. These guys didn't die so much for their country as they died because of their country." .... What may have been the FBI's best hope of cracking the case -- the arrest of a Saudi dissident opposed to the royal family who initially suggested that he was involved in the attack -- evaporated last year when he reneged on a plea-bargain agreement and changed his testimony. He insisted that he had no information on the bombing. The Saudi, Hani Abdel Rahim Sayegh, is now in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service at an undisclosed location, awaiting deportation to Saudi Arabia, where he is likely to be beheaded. Even if he reversed himself again and agreed to testify, U.S. officials say, his credibility is now so tainted that his account might be of little use. U.S. officials acknowledge that the FBI is stymied. They say there is no reason to believe that they will ever obtain the Saudi cooperation necessary to determine who carried out the attack. "By ourselves, there's not much we can do," one U.S. official said. Attorney General Janet Reno and Freeh have publicly criticized the Saudis for a lack of cooperation. Federal officials say the Saudis have refused to allow them to interrogate dozens of suspects arrested by the Saudis and to review critical evidence. It took months, they said, for the Saudis to agree to allow the FBI to inspect the getaway car used by the terrorists. The Saudi Embassy in Washington said it had no comment on the investigation, but American business executives and others close to the Saudi government said that the Saudis were equally frustrated by the FBI. They said the Saudis described the bureau as high-handed in its dealings with the kingdom and reluctant to accept the validity of evidence gathered by the Saudis suggesting that the attack was carried out by Saudi dissidents with the help of Iran. The evidence, they said, included videotapes of confessions by some of the suspects and wiretaps of their conversations with other terrorists. ..... While U.S. officials do not deny that the Saudi government's theory about an Iranian tie may be correct, they say that the evidence that the Saudis have shared with them has been inconclusive and would be of little value in a U.S. court. Freeh once described the Saudi evidence as little more than "hearsay." ... Families of the American victims of the bombing are, for the first time, complaining openly about the slow pace of the investigation. They say they fear that the Clinton administration has allowed justice for their loved ones to be sacrificed to the complexities of the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. ..... "They let the Saudis get away with a lot of things because of the oil," she said. "They need to go to the Saudis and say, 'Look, we lost a lot of people, we need your help.' But the Pentagon won't do that. They're weak." While the Defense Department insists that it is closely monitoring the FBI investigation, it insists that it cannot interfere in the work of criminal investigators. "We've been very clear from the beginning: This is the FBI's job," said Ken Bacon, the Pentagon's chief spokesman. "We don't ask the FBI to fly F-16s over Iraq and they don't ask us to take over their investigations." The families of the victims say the Pentagon's attitude smacks of callousness. .... U.S. and Saudi investigators have attempted to maintain a facade of mutual assistance, with periodic pledges of cooperation and occasional discussions of the case. But Clinton administration officials say that whatever substantive cooperation did exist between the FBI and its counterpart in Saudi Arabia is largely over. .... "In the end of the day, there is a big cultural gulf here," said a senior administration official. "Neither side has a great deal of experience in dealing with each other in these matters. The FBI has no history of involvement in the kingdom." The question of Iranian involvement has greatly complicated the investigation, especially since the United States had at one time threatened a military strike against any foreign government involved in the 1996 attack. The Saudis insisted early on in the case that there was an Iranian connection to the blast and arrested dozens of Saudi dissidents, including several who had been educated in Iran and had ties to the Lebanese militants Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist group. Any conclusive finding that Tehran was involved in the bombing could undermine the recent foreign-policy goals of the United States and Saudi Arabia. Both countries have sought to improve ties to Iran as a result of last year's election of President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate who was spoken of his desire to end years of hostility with the United States and Saudi Arabia. Thursday, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in a speech in New York that the United States hoped to establish a framework for improved relations with Iran. "As the wall of mistrust comes down, we can develop with the Islamic republic, when it is ready, a road map leading to normal relations," she said. President Clinton called for "a genuine reconciliation" between the two countries. The Saudis have gone much further recently in seeking an improvement in its relations with Tehran. Last year Crown Prince Abdullah traveled to a summit meeting of Islamic countries held in Iran, where he met with Khatami and praised the new Iranian leader. Commercial ties between the two nations have been restored. Yet despite the recent good will, people close to the Saudi government say that the Saudis continue to believe that the Iranian government sponsored Saudi dissidents who carried out the bombing. While he did not single out Iran for blame, the Saudi interior minister, Prince Nayef ibn Abdul Aziz, said last month that "Saudi hands" had carried out the bombing "with the support of others." People close to the Saudi government say that the Saudis have been perplexed by the reluctance of the FBI to accept the validity of evidence showing an Iranian link. "You'd think that maybe this is an investigation that the United States doesn't want concluded," said Nathaniel Kern, an American oil-industry consultant who is close to senior Saudi officials. "My suspicion is that it would be terribly difficult for the United States if the investigation concluded that Iran was responsible for the deaths of 19 Americans. What practical steps do you take? Do you put new sanctions on Iran? Do you bomb it?"